We felt like we could do anything.
ALTERNATIVE VENTURES PROVE LONG-LIVED
Most folks are surprised to hear they're still around--the domes, the Experimental Farm, the Experimental College. But they've not only survived, they've thrived, and 1997 is a landmark year for these student-initiated institutions and for several others.
The Domes student housing, the Women's Resources and Research Center, and Outdoor Adventures turn 25 this year. The Student Experimental Farm turns 20. And radio station KDVS and the Experimental College mark their 30th year.
UC Davis seems quite alone among all other UC campuses in its number of student-founded entities remaining into the late 1990s. For example, there are no experimental colleges remaining at any sister campus, and only a handful remain in the nation, where there used to be hundreds.
These efforts were born at the height of the youth movement of the late 1960s and 1970s when, as Christy Jensen, one of the founders of the UC Davis Experimental College put it, "We felt like we could do anything."
Their survival through the years has been due to their defined purpose of serving students' needs and to vital student stewardship.
"When students have a sense of pride and ownership [in an activity]," said Mark Champagne, director of ASUCD for the past 19 years, "they are willing to do Herculean tasks for little or no money." He also pointed out that student-run activities are often able to change more quickly than administrative units and take more risks.
"An atmosphere of tolerance and mutual respect was present at UCD as these ideas were put forth," recalled Robert Sommer, professor of psychology and art department chair, adding that they were viewed as a benefit to the entire community.
In an effort to create housing that was both innovative and unique, students built 14 polyurethane-plaster-fiberglass domes on the western edge of campus in the summer of 1972. Initially expected to remain only five years, the igloo-shaped structures have weathered the test of time. Russ Watts, a six-year dome resident now completing his graduate degree in education at UC Davis observed that "Baggins End" has provided hundreds of students a home for experiential education in the truest sense.
Founded in 1977 out of student desire to learn more about and gain practical experience with alternative agriculture techniques, the Student Experimental Farm has remained true to its original intent. "What's different now," says Farm Manager Mark van Horn, "is that we have a staff to help guide the learning process." What was then an upstart has matured to the point that, increasingly, plant science faculty are making use of the 20-acre organic farm for teaching and research.
Joy Fergoda, librarian for the Women's Resources and Research Center, recalled that institution's founding in 1972 resulted from the combined efforts of students, staff, faculty and the Davis community. "There was a clear need in Davis for such a place. Davis is a progressive town and gender issues were and continue to be issues of concern." The WRRC was the birthplace of ongoing, now stand-alone programs such as the Rape Prevention Education Program, the Sexual Harassment Education Program, and the Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Resource Center.
In the early 1970s, Outdoor Adventures offered students the opportunity to get out into the wilderness and experience that environment. It continues that mission today and remains still largely student run. "Outdoor Adventures provides students with opportunities for developing leadership skills"--which sets it apart from similar programs on other campuses that, as they have grown, have moved away from operation by students toward career staff, said Manager Dennis Johnson.
The current director of the Experimental College, Jake Lashbrook, said that one sign that the EC has matured is that it is now a financially independent activity, not subsidized by ASUCD. "On a more fundamental level, the EC has survived for 30 years because it not only re-establishes the personal aspects of education at UCD, but it reinforces a sense of community for past and present generations of teachers, students, staff and friends."
"These units really represent the sense of spirit and hope in Davis," and "their success helps get away from the notion that only experts can build community, " said Isao Fujimoto, emeritus senior lecturer in human and community development (formerly applied behavioral sciences). He helped found both his department and the Asian American Studies program and was involved through the years in many of these student initiatives. The survival of these activities "proves that when students have a say in their own education and work together with a positive outlook and the energy and enthusiasm of youth, they can pull off anything."